Social anxiety is a particularly debilitating disorder that affects up to 13% of the population, so you can imagine how many people want to know how to get rid of it.
Anyone that suffers from social anxiety knows the crippling fear they experience on a daily basis. Just trying to do the normal things the majority of us take for granted can bring on severe anxiety and panic attacks. It can be really difficult to get rid of social anxiety if you’d had it for a long time. But what exactly is it?
You may suffer from social anxiety if you:
- Worry about everyday social activities, such as shopping, going to work, talking to strangers, speaking on the phone, being with people.
- Avoid social activities, such as eating out, going to parties, family gatherings, meetings, and the cinema.
- Think you are going to embarrass yourself in some way or appear incompetent in front of others.
- Cannot concentrate when someone is watching you as you feel as if you’re being criticised or judged.
- Experience panic attacks in the above situations.
So how to get rid of social anxiety?
If you want to learn how to get rid of social anxiety, it is important to find out its origins. Social phobia can come from many different places. Some think it comes down to the belief that we think we’re not good enough, that there’s something wrong with us. We think that we are constantly being judged and once the world finds out what idiots we are we’ll be laughed at.
As for myself, my social anxiety came about from a sense of feeling trapped. I’d had panic attacks before, in relation to travelling. But I’d never experienced them in the workplace. Then one day, I was late back from a lunch break and all of a sudden, I felt trapped and I could not breathe properly. It was so bad I had to go home. From that day, I developed a fear of having a panic attack in public. That started my social anxiety.
Whatever reason is behind your restricted lifestyle, there are ways to get rid of social anxiety.
7 ways to get rid of social anxiety, backed by studies
Tell people about your anxiety
Remember that percentage at the beginning? Up to 13% of people suffer from social anxiety. So 13 people out of every 100 have the same disorder as you. You are definitely not the only one and hiding it away only makes it worse. You’d be surprised at the number of times I’ve mentioned my phobias or anxieties to others, only for them to say ‘me too!’
Suffering from a mental disorder is nothing to be ashamed of. The best thing you can do is tell your friends, your family, your boss, and your colleagues. I bet the majority of them have had some experience of anxiety and welcome you coming forward. But whatever you do, don’t hide away. And if someone mocks you, tell them that at least you are trying to get over your problem.
Talk to yourself in the third person
When I get anxious, the first thing I think is ‘Oh my god, I’ve got to get out’. Research suggests that if you use the third person when you talk, you take the emotion out of a stressful situation. It helps you manage your natural ability to think clearly and objectively.
Just think about it. Imagine a friend comes to you asking for advice about a situation you are not personally involved in. As an outsider, it is much easier for you to see the bigger picture. You can give a fair analysis and not get emotionally involved in all the nitty-gritty.
It’s exactly the same when you have those conversations in your head. Language is a powerful tool. Use it to help you rather than adding to your anxiety.
Research suggests that shallow breathing sends signals to the most reptilian part of our brain to prepare us for fight or flight. This increases adrenalin and, where there is no real threat, can make us feel anxious.
Shallow breathing, or hyperventilating, causes an excess of carbon dioxide to build up in our blood. There is new research to suggest that breathing in carbon dioxide-rich air can increase feelings of panic and anxiety. This is because high levels of carbon dioxide change the pH levels in our brain.
Studies show that these levels play an important role in fear. pH levels are carefully monitored in the brain. Any imbalance can cause serious disruption to the way we function. Excessive carbon dioxide causes an increase in acidity and this change in pH triggers a fear response.
Breathing slowly and steadily can regulate the amount of carbon dioxide in your blood. It will also slow down your heart rate. Learning to breathe properly is probably the best way to relieve and get rid of the symptoms of social anxiety.
Change your focus
When we suffer from social anxiety, we think the whole world is watching our every move. The reality is very different. It is far more likely that people are going about their business and haven’t even noticed that slightly nervous person.
It’s very easy to focus on ourselves, our bodies and to ramp up all those feelings of paranoia. Not only are we exaggerating what’s really happening, but we notice every little thing about our bodies as well. We can feel our heart rate increasing, our skin getting hotter, our faces blushing and our legs going wobbly.
Instead of focusing inwards, turn attention outwards. Feel the sun on your face or the cool breeze on your skin. Look at the clouds in the sky or feel the grass underneath your feet. By focusing outwards, you’ll stop concentrating on the anxiety inside.
Ditch your ‘emergency’ behaviours
We all have those little emergency behaviours that we do to keep us safe. They range from talking too fast so that we can get out of the conversation quickly, to walking quickly to avoid speaking altogether.
The problem is that these behaviours are designed as barriers to avoid social contact. We use them to cover up what we perceive as flaws in ourselves.
As a result, if we keep doing them, we’re never going to get better. You’ll be pleased to know that studies show once you’ve decided to drop these behaviours, you feel much better. Not only that but other people rate those who ditch their emergency behaviours as being more enjoyable to be around.
The first thing to do is identify your emergency behaviours and choose which one you want to ditch. Start with a small behaviour, such as saying hi to a cashier in a store or waving at the postman. It doesn’t have to be major, but have a go at ditching something. Once you start dropping the smaller things, your confidence will build and you’ll feel able to try ditching the bigger ones.
What’s the worst thing that can happen when you are out and about? Unfortunately, many of us know an instant answer to that question. But how realistic are we being? Will all our friends reject us forever if we have to walk out of a restaurant? Will our family disown us if we can’t go to a relative’s wedding? Are our work colleagues likely to stab us in the back if we don’t attend a Christmas party?
Of course not, but in our heads, we exaggerate what we think is going happen.
The reality is that it’s as far removed from what will actually happen than anything you could think up. As I said before, people simply aren’t interested in your life. They are too busy worrying about their own to be sticking their noses into yours. So instead of exaggerating, try thinking realistically.
No one is perfect
Today’s society aspires to perfection. Therefore, it certainly isn’t easy to accept your flaws. But remember that we are all human and ask yourself, do you like perfect people? Or do you prefer those who have little imperfections? Typically, it’s the imperfections in people that make us love them.
I mean, who likes a smartarse know-it-all anyway? Don’t forget, some of the greatest writers spoke about human error, including Alexander Pope:
“To err is human, to forgive divine. All people commit sins and make mistakes. God forgives them, and people are acting in a godlike (divine) way when they forgive.”
If you suffer from social anxiety and want to get rid of its symptoms, then why not try the above tips? Remember, no one is perfect, we all make mistakes, and more people than you know suffer from social anxiety. Every time you get out there and do the things that make you anxious you’ll become a little more confident and able to live your best life.
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